Friday, December 21, 2007

Ave, Rowan!

The Archbishop of Canterbury-- what a party pooper.

By Sophie Borland

The Archbishop of Canterbury said yesterday that the Christmas story of the Three Wise Men was nothing but a 'legend'.

Dr Rowan Williams has claimed there was little evidence that the Magi even existed and there was certainly nothing to prove there were three of them or that they were kings.

He said the only reference to the wise men from the East was in Matthew's gospel and the details were very vague.

Dr Williams said: "Matthew's gospel says they are astrologers, wise men, priests from somewhere outside the Roman Empire, that's all we're really told. It works quite well as legend."

The Archbishop went on to dispel other details of the Christmas story, adding that there were probably no asses or oxen in the stable.

He argued that Christmas cards which showed the Virgin Mary cradling the baby Jesus, flanked by shepherds and wise men, were misleading. As for the scenes that depicted snow falling in Bethlehem, the Archbishop said the chance of this was "very unlikely".

In a final blow to the traditional nativity story, Dr Williams concluded that Jesus was probably not born in December at all. He said: "Christmas was when it was because it fitted well with the winter festival."

[Did you catch the British punctuation errors? The Telegraph seems unable to decide whether it's a British or an American rag. Or maybe Sophie Borland is an American journalist...?]

None of the above is particularly new or surprising: it's pretty much standard fare for students in both religious studies and theology. It is, in fact, the sort of information that I wish clergy regularly divulged to the laity-- if not from the pulpit, then during whatever activities count as "Christian education." I suspect, though, that many clergymen (and -women) fear revealing these rather pedestrian truths because they worry over how demoralizing they might be. It's a shame, because what the laity loses is a chance to learn some valuable lessons about the nature of true faith, which should never be rooted in black-and-white propositions and magical thinking. As Tom Robbins, that happy druggie, wrote in his book Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, "Don't confuse stability with rigidity." The balance of the surfer on the wave is what true faith is, not the stiffness of a statue that's easily overturned.

I also tend to think that the clergy's fear is groundless. Many congregations are composed of educated people who will, unprompted, go read about these matters for themselves. Many of them will come away from their explorations with profoundly changed views of their own traditions... and they will go to church all the same. To fear the disenchantment of the laity is, in effect, to be condescending: the clergy should put more faith in those they claim to care for.


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